Please vote for the piece you feel is most deserving

Poll closed Feb 17, 2013.
  1. Pauly Pen Feathers - In Memory of Albert King

    1 vote(s)
  2. Lunatia - Hazardous Music

    0 vote(s)
  3. Bimber - Tribute to Anarchy

    1 vote(s)
  4. jiffypop110995 - Healing

    0 vote(s)
  5. Drusy - Peeker

    1 vote(s)
  6. Khaelmin - Dichotomy

    1 vote(s)
  7. jedellion - The Girl

    2 vote(s)
  8. Hambone - The Bridge

    2 vote(s)
  9. SilverWolf0101 - A Tribute to the Dead

    1 vote(s)
  10. o0oHANDo0o - Blood, dust and dreams.

    2 vote(s)
  11. JJ_Maxx - The Offering

    2 vote(s)
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  1. Lemex

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

    Oct 2, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Northeast England

    Voting Short Story Contest (127) Theme: A tribute

    Discussion in 'Bi-Weekly Short Story Contest Archives' started by Lemex, Feb 4, 2013.

    Voting Short Story Contest (127) Theme: A tribute

    Thank you for all your entries. The winner will be stickied until the next contest's winner is crowned(maybe). No more entries are allowed in this contest.

    Voting will end Saturday 17th of February 2013 to give you all a chance to read the entries.

    It is possible to vote for yourself, but I would hope in the name of good sportsmanship that you would only do so if you have read all the other stories and given them your honest evaluation. You gain nothing if you base your vote solely on how you feel about the author or whether you have personally invested time and effort in the story. In the end, your conscience is your only judge.

    Any entries under or over the suggested word limit will be flagged as such - they are still entered in to the contest. It is for you to decide whether they are still worthy of your vote.

    Any entry not in accordance with the theme will be dealt with on a case by case basis to determine eligibility. Consider how the author has responded to the theme in making your decision.

    Good luck to everyone!
  2. Lemex

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

    Oct 2, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Northeast England
    Pauly Pen Feathers - In Memory of Albert King

    11:00 pm. The count light flickered twice and came to life as it did every night at this time. One by one the guard walked the length of the cell house pressing his fat nose against the gorilla glass window in each of the doors, counting bodies; ‘one, two’, ‘one, two’, on an on until he reached the end of the deck. Then, walking over to the opposite side he continued counting his way back to the front of the unit.

    11:00 pm and 5:00 am; these were the count times. They were the only interruptions all night, and lasted only a few seconds. If the cops didn’t find anything suspicious, that was the end of it. The rest of the night was ours alone.

    “What if the cops hear the gun?” I asked my celly.

    “Then they hear the gun.” Bird Dog answered. “Are you scared?”

    “No, well… NO.” I resolved.

    Sure I was scared, even though it meant being vulnerable. Being scared was a sign of weakness. People were often made victims when found out to be weak. You were expected to be tough in here. You were expected to think of yourself as the toughest guy in the joint. Only then would they leave you alone.

    “You ready, then?”

    “Yes.” It was all I said. I made the decision and there was no turning back. If I tried to, it would be disastrous.

    Bird Dog was a good man, I thought, but only in a place like this could one find good in someone with a double decapitation homicide on his record. I didn’t feel like pissing him off. Not after what he did on the outside, and certainly not after he went to all the trouble of building the new gun.

    “Lock the door and let’s get this over with.” Bird Dog said with a determined look on his face.

    I pushed the comb into the space between the gray steel door and the door jab. It would put pressure on the lock and keep it from opening if the guards tried to come in. That’s how we did it in here. It’s how we demanded our privacy, and found a little security. Next, I shoved the home-made cardboard shade into the 12 x 6 inch window. If the cops heard the gun they wouldn’t see it and we would have precious few seconds to dismantle it and stash the parts.

    My mind was reeling now, and my stomach was in knots. I forced myself to think of something else; something to settle me down for just a little while. It shouldn’t take more than a few hours, I thought.

    The human mind is amazing, I mused. The right person can take an abstract pile of junk and turn it into something useful. With just a toothbrush, the barrel of a pen, a guitar string and a motor taken from an old cassette player the creative person can make something wonderful. A tattoo gun, for example. Bird Dog made lots of tattoo guns over the years. And because he was an artist he was allowed to keep ink.

    “That’s a nice template, Red” Bird Dog said, “Who made it?”

    “Noodles” spilled out of my mouth almost as a whisper.

    It wouldn’t have made any sense if I just said ‘Mike’ made it. There were five ‘Mikes’ on our deck. That’s why everyone in jail has a nickname. The nickname was yours alone. No one else had one just like it. It was given to you once you were accepted in the population. Mike, down the deck, was ‘Noodles’. My celly’s name was Mike, too, but we called him ‘Bird Dog’. And I was called ‘Red Beard’, for obvious reasons.

    “Who's idea was it?” Bird Dog asked.

    “It’s mine.” I answered.

    It was my idea, alright, but Noodles made it come to life on paper. A tattoo template; a picture of a Gibson Flying V guitar over Harley Davidson like angel wings with a ribbon on top proudly displaying the name ‘Albert King’ and another ribbon on the bottom that documented his time on Earth; ‘1923 – 1992’.

    Bird Dog prepped my arm and put the finishing touches on the needle. He liked to use a Super Slinky ‘B’ guitar string. Not too thick, not too thin. He said if it was too thick it would destroy the skin. If it was too thin it would wobble, and Bird Dog was a stickler for detail. He had a reputation to keep, one he earned over the last twenty years as a jailhouse tattoo artist.

    He used the striker on a match book cover to sharpen the needle, and then lit a match to sterilize it.

    “I’m a doctor.” Bird Dog told me, with a wink and a smile.

    “Does it hurt?” He asked, never taking his eyes off his work.

    “No.” I replied.

    “You bleed a lot. You sure it doesn’t hurt?”

    “It kind of tickles.” I said.

    “You’re scaring me, Red.” Bird Dog said out of the side of his mount. I think he was serious.

    Of course it hurt, especially the strings; long, straight slashes in my flesh, six of them, closely spaced, running down the length of the guitar being etched into my skin. And the feathers of the wings were no walk in the park, either. They were small, and needed to be shaded with the tattoo gun running back and forth over the same spot, over and over. I guessed there were close to two-hundred feathers tightly woven together in a four inch length just under my left shoulder. Yes it hurt, I thought, as my arm began to swell.

    “These strings have nice detail.” He muttered to himself as he continued to cut away at my skin.

    I hardly heard him. I was engrossed with Stephen King’s ‘Christine’ playing out on the small black and white television sitting up on our shelving unit. Only during a commercial break did I take a minute to peek at Bird Dog’s progress.

    “It’s really starting to take shape.” I said.

    Bird Dog said nothing and my mind began to wander again; this time I was thinking about Albert.

    It’s kind of funny, I thought, how one never had to listen to Albert King to hear him play.

    If you’ve ever heard guitar players like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn and a brood of others, then you’ve heard in their music the styling’s of Albert King. He was the most emulated guitar player in music, respected and revered by all who knew him. And to most he was known simply as ‘King of the Blues Guitar’.

    To the undiscerning, occasional music listener Chuck Berry might have been thought of as influential, and rightly so. Or perhaps Bo Diddley would get the nod of approval. But when asked, most of the world’s greatest guitarists have always acknowledged Albert King as their inspiration. And so many young people picked up the guitar and learned to play along with his records, just as I did many years ago.

    And that’s my story. Because of his contribution to music, The Blues, in particular, I decided I would pay tribute to this man and honor him with my blood, keeping his memory on my arm for the rest of my life. That’s just how much I loved The Blues, especially Albert King’s Blues.

    “Bird Dog, you mind if I ask you a question?”

    “Go ahead.”

    “I just wonder; how did you escape the death penalty?”

    “Just a technicality.” He said. “I thought I told you that.”

    Bird Dog didn’t like talking about his case, but every once in a while I could get him to open up.

    “Well, what I was really wondering is, why’d you do it? I mean, I know why you killed them. You said you didn’t expect anyone to be in the house and they surprised you. But why did you hack their heads off with a Swiss Army knife?”

    Bird Dog let out a sigh. I thought for a moment I was overstepping my boundaries. One was not supposed to ask too many questions in prison.

    “It was a mess.” He said. “There was blood everywhere. I stepped in it, leaving my foot prints all over the kitchen floor. I was stupid and figured I’d cut off their heads and use their bloody stumps to destroy my tracks.”

    “You’re lucky you only got forty years for that, Dog.” I said.

    “Yeah, justice” He mocked. “And I can’t believe you got three years for just two ounces of pot.”

    I agreed.

    “And I can’t believe they stuck me in a cell with Charlie Manson.” I added.

    Bird Dog laughed out loud. “Shut up Red, or I’ll stick ya.”

    I just grinned.


    Almost three hours had passed since we started working on my arm. Now, finally, Bird Dog began putting the finishing touches on my new tattoo.

    “Finished,” Bird Dog said. “It looks good.”

    He turned off the gun and ran his eyes up and down my arm inspecting his work. He dabbed at my wounds with a cotton ball mopping up the blood as it wept through my freshly cut skin.

    He was pleased.

    After rubbing my arm with Vaseline, Bird Dog bandaged me with gauze.

    “Keep it like that for a week.”

    “Yes doctor.” I assured him I would take very good care of his artwork.

    “And keep a long sleeve shirt on. You don’t want the cops seeing a fresh tattoo.”

    Bird Dog was very protective of his work. It was a source of income for him bringing in two, maybe three cartons of smokes a week. That’s good money in jail. I assured him again I would be careful.

    “You better be.” He warned, getting tough with me.

    “Oh why don’t you chill, bad boy.” I said. “Don’t worry.”

    We were always playing the ‘tough guy’ roll.

    “Turn off the light, Red.” By this, I assumed we were ready for sleep.

    “Good night, Dog. And thanks again for the tattoo.”

    I turned off the celling light and got ready to climb up into my bunk. The quiet television made a perfect night-light as it cast a soft cool glow upon our tiny cell.

    “Are you forgetting something?” Bird Dog asked with a sheepish and very familiar smile on his face.

    “Sorry. Good night, sweetie.” I said, as I slipped my arms around his thin, naked waist.

    “Good night, honey.” He answered, and gently pressed his lips against mine.

    ‘Tough guys’, I thought, sarcastically.

    We were just a couple of real, tough, guys.
  3. Lemex

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

    Oct 2, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Northeast England
    Lunatia - Hazardous Music

    The smoke-filled room was filled with people at tables, chucking booze down their throats and snacking on stale pretzels. I knew they were there even if I didn't see them because I was assured by the manager of the joint that I had an audience. I had no reason to distrust the shifty-eyed so-and-so. I also heard the people talking among themselves. It's usually a big tip-off that there are people afoot when you hear them.

    I proceeded to walk the three steps up to the tiny stage and just plopped down on the tiny, wobbly chair without first checking out the room from outside the glare of the spotlights. It's bad luck to see your audience before performing for them. You may say it's not. Trust me, it is. I can't prove it, but you can't disprove my superstition so I will continue my strange rituals. I took my guitar out of its case and made it rest on my lap, caressing the strings gently with my fingertips to steady my nerves. It didn't work, but nothing would steady my nerves in front of a live audience and so I figured that it wouldn't hurt to try.

    I closed my eyes and aimed my mouth in the general direction of the nearest microphone so I could introduce myself. Sadly, only a slight croak came out and I had to clear my throat. I tried again. "Ladies and gentlemen," corny start, "Thanks for joining us here at the…" I was interrupted by a belligerent drunk from the back, asking me to move things along. He used other, spicier words and a slightly more offensive tone than I needed at the time and so I just mumbled that I wanted to pay tribute to my most all-time favourite musician of all time: Keith Slash. I heard a chuckle here and there but tried to remain unfazed when I started my rendition of his best-selling song: 'Sweet Satisfaction of Mine'. I kept my eyes closed, made my guitar do my bidding and belted out the words as if I was Keith Slash. I knew I was nowhere near the man's talent but it didn't matter, his music inspired me to do what I do and I wanted to remind people of his greatness whenever I got the chance. I poured my heart and soul into the song and, when it was done, I felt elated. Sadly, I also felt an empty beer glass hitting me on the forehead. Everything went black for a few seconds, except for a wonderful display of twinkling stars. My vision returned and I took myself and guitar off the stage. There is a time in a man's life when he knows he's not wanted in the room and that was such a time. The show must go on, you might think. But I think the show must only go on until you need to consult the nearest doctor. For the time being, I decided that I first needed a breath of fresh air before I went to hospital and so I made my way out the backdoor and into the obligatory alley.

    Ten puffs on a cigarette later, I felt a lot better save for the throbbing headache. Just then, I heard the backdoor opening, a set of footsteps and the aforementioned door closing. I didn't look to see who my new smoking buddies were going to be, so I kept looking down at the ground and casually exhaled a puff of smoke. I became aware that one of the newcomers approached me and I felt a hand landing on my shoulder. My first thought was that I was in the process of being mugged. Too bad for them I had no money. They were going to find their endeavour to be a fruitless one. I looked up to reprimand them for their immoral behaviour but stopped short when I realised that I was being mugged by my idol and his groupies. Keith Slash himself was robbing little old me! The how and why didn't matter and I was about to reach for my wallet and gladly throw whatever coins I had at Keith's feet when he brought me back to my senses by speaking. "Awesome show, man," he said as slapped my shoulder a few times. I developed a goofy grin and that's where my memory of the event becomes a little hazy. In fact, I don't remember anything else about that night. Apparently, I lost consciousness and the manager called an ambulance. He claims Keith Slash was not there but I learned by now that you can't trust a shifty-eyed so-and-so to tell the truth.
  4. Lemex

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

    Oct 2, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Northeast England
    Bimber - Tribute to Anarchy

    Fireworks! Is there a moment when one doesn’t go off some were in this god forsaken place? Not a moment passes by and not hear some explosion, car alarm going off, a gun being fired or a bomb going off. It’s been a year since the rebels won and still no official government has been formed, no laws, no police, no order. Nobody cares, it’s total anarchy.

    Living in an apartment building on the third floor has it’s perks, as it lessens some of the stench of the streets, but it still makes its way up, the smell of burned gunpowder just adds to the flavor. Outside on the streets was just like any other day, kids down the street selling fireworks and drugs, as if it were candy. Others playing hide and seek between garbage and throwing fireworks at other kids, such sports were quickly becoming ever more popular here.

    “God I hate that smell!”

    Bim took a deep breath and grinned “well guess that’s the smell of freedom my friend.”

    “Why did we come here?”

    “hmm…well for starts you dragged me here with you,” Bim said walking to the window and checking to see if any of the kids was injured yet. “Probably cause of the money, we sure didn’t come here for the weather.”

    “Probably,” I said smiling. Just hearing his voice always brought a smile on my face, knowing he was there gave me comfort. Back home in the old country, we never knew if the next meal will come or not, some days it didn’t, that’s when Bim would sit me on the floor and tell me long stories to keep me forgetting we had nothing to eat till we fell asleep on the floor. Life was hard after mom and dad died, but that’s when I met Bim and Clyde they took good care of me. Sure some other friends invited me over for dinner as much as they could, but even they had their own problems and troubles, only those two were always there for me when I needed them most.

    “Hey come see this.” Bim called pointing to the window.

    “what is it?” asking as I came closer and taking a look over his shoulder, “Oh a woman!”

    “Yeah, we haven’t seen one of those in a while”

    The woman was walking as fast as she could, and who would blame her, she hardly resembled a woman, as she was covered from head to toe and the cloth was so wide hardly any womanly curves were visible. “That could have been easily a man.”

    “Well after so many women have been raped, I’m still surprised I see one walking alone, just last week one nurse was found dead on the street after she went missing a few days!” Bim said his face turning red with anger.

    “For forty years they been living like caged animals, everything forbidden to them from education to proper medical care, even though they’re among the richest countries in the world. All their lives they watched as their master beats them down and create monsters of them, while he enjoyed all the riches. Now that their master is dead can you truly blame them that they don’t know better?” I said as I gave one last sad look outside and closed the window.

    “No, but even animals have basic instincts. Anyone can get robbed now on the streets and beaten up and no one will help!” Bim yelled as his face grew more red, “For god’s sake a few days ago a woman was pulled out of her car so a guy could rob her phone and shot her in the leg, no one tried to help her, she even had to drive herself to the hospital!”

    Sitting down on the bed Bim took a deep breath before continuing, “And yesterday a guy was pulled out of his car and beaten by five men so they could steal his car on the main street in broad daylight!”

    “Well what do you expect of them?” I yelled back as I went to the kitchen. “All their lives they been afraid to stand up to their master you can’t expect them after a year to stand up to another bully.”

    “Yes, but why are we really here, do you really want to get yourself killed that much?” Bim said back.

    “Lets leave this place, lets go back home, your alone here, we have no friends here.”

    I could hear the pain in his voice, always afraid for me, but I gave up of fear of death long ago, life is a battle each day, death was easy, no more pain, no more sorrow. There was no reason to fear it, everyone I knew was already dead.

    “Hey Bim! Want some coffee.”

    “Bim?” as I walked back into the room.

    “Oh, hey Clyde, didn’t hear you come in.” Looking around the room was empty other than a tall man standing by the bed, Clyde was some what older than me, with a hard face, he was always the strongest of us, always the fighter that kept us going. Bim was already gone, they never liked each other and avoided being in the same room, never bothered to ask them why, like it was just supposed to be that way.

    “What’s the heck is going on, don’t tell me that damn Bim been filling your head with that nonsense about going home again?”

    “Nah he meant no harm, he’s just afraid for me, that’s all.”

    “Well I tell you what, we worked darn hard to get to this god forsaken place, and we sure ain’t gonna run back home just so his highness can feel safer.” Clyde hissed as he grabbing a pack of cigarettes and pulled one out and pointed it at me.

    “Now you listen to me kiddo, all our life we had nothing, but look here, we got a roof, we got food, heck we even have cigarettes.” He light the cigarette and motioned to follow him.

    He opened the window and took a deep breath as if smelling a garden of flowers. “Tell me what you see here,” motioning to the streets, it was getting dark outside and the night blistering with fireworks.


    “Heh, I warned you not to hang out with him, he thinks everything is so darn funny, no I’ll tell ye what’s out there.

    “Its freedom! It’s the place to make stuff happen and make our future, yeah sure people get killed and robbed, just like any other place, its just here no one will tell you its wrong or try and stop you, you can be whatever you want to be here.”

    Its then that I came closer to the window and truly looked out, people were not dying, they were celebrating life, they were celebrating freedom, each explosion in the sky was there shout that they survived, that they still lived, more now than they ever did before.

    “You think about it all kiddo.”

    Smiling as life filled my body and as I knew that he was going to say that, I looked back were Clyde was standing but he was already gone. I always amused myself that I knew what each of them was going to say before they said it. I was alone as I watched the night sky get filled with all sorts of colorful shapes, but I kept smiling as I knew they will be back when I needed them, for I was never truly alone.
  5. Lemex

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

    Oct 2, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Northeast England
    jiffypop110995 - Healing

    I sit up abruptly and glance around my room. The blackness threatens to swallow me whole. Anxiety takes over my body and I look and grope the open air for anything to touch or to hold on to. I feel the loneliness of my situation physically draining me. I drag my body, which seems much heavier than before, to the waiting shower across the house. I enter the bathroom and the first thing I notice is my razor, sitting on the side of the tub, glistening beautifully wanting me to feel. I get into the shower and let the steam cleanse the loneliness inside of me. I grab the razor awaiting the relief of the razor taking my mind away from the exposure of my true feelings. My body is crying sweet rusty red tears onto my bathtub floor. I wait for my body to finish with its tears and I clean my body as to not get any kind of infection that would cause attention to be drawn to my bodies sorrow. My cut decorating my thigh gives me a sense of satisfaction and I trace the clean cut line with my fingertips. I clean the rest of myself and step out of my bathtub. I pull on a pair of skinny jeans and an old band T-shirt that I had just laying around. I straighten my hair and smear on makeup to cover up my true self. I look in the mirror and tell myself
    “Your arms are too big you fat lazy oaf. You could fry a vat of French fries with the amount of grease in your hair. You will never be perfect.”
    The door opens and I hear a soft voice call my name,
    “Marie, I’m awake, are you decent?”
    “No please don’t come…”
    “Marie what did you do… what is that cut? Did you cut yourself shaving?”
    “Yeah. It’s okay, I’m alright. Stupid razor gets me every time.”
    “I don’t believe you.”
    “You shouldn’t.”
    I take off grabbing my clothing and throwing it on with my best friend at my back throwing questions at me that I refuse to answer. I grab my pack of cigarettes and run out the door only to be caught on the arm by the friend I trusted most.
    “Don’t go” her pleas are loud in my ear as I rip away and tear down the street trying to get away from the feelings that hover over me. I slow to a walk and take out a cigarette and stick it in my mouth as I breathe around it trying to catch my breath and calm myself down. I stop walking and pull out my pretty clear light blue lighter and light my cigarette. The smoke rips through my sore throat which was dried out from running. I smell the familiar scent of the cigarette and I can relax. I close my eyes and inhale deeply taking in the sensation of feeding my addiction. I continue walking having no real place to go until I begin to pass my high school. I build up an immediate shelter around my body and think back to what it is like it there when school is in session. I remember observing people wondering what they were thinking and if anyone thought like me. I wouldn’t wish anyone to feel this way that I do every day when I wake up.
    I briefly think of something…where am I going to go? What am I going to do? Why am I here? Where will life take me? The idea sticks in my head and hunkers down inside making me feel ten pounds heavier with the weight of the thought. I toss my cigarette on the ground and stomp it out leaving it behind as I continue down the street. I amble on with my thumb stuck out in the open air waiting for someone to pull over and pick me up and take me anywhere away from here. I continue across a bridge with my thumb still presented when a car finally pulls over. The people in the car stare at me blankly and the driver rolls down the window.
    “It’s not safe for a girl your age out here miss. You should get off the streets and head back home.”
    “I will not go back home.” I say defiantly as I begin my journey to nowhere again letting my hair fall in front of my face. The car continues driving and I ignore the drivers stare to prevent the guilt of leaving my friend at her doorstep. I spot a girl walking toward me going the opposite way on the road in a gray coat and torn jeans. We encounter each other and she passes only to turn around to push me on my face about two seconds later. My face hits the pavement and everything goes blank for a brief second and I try to lift myself off the ground. A foot slams into my back and my body is forced to the ground once again. I can feel that my cut has opened up and my body begins to cry once more. This time I am terrified of my body crying and leaving a filthy mark of deep red imprinted in the sidewalk. The girl reaches into my pocket and finds my cigarette pack and runs in the opposite direction. But before she leaves she looks down, spits on me and says,
    “You are disgusting. Go home little girl. You don’t belong on the streets.”
    I stay still in fear that she may come back and I pretend to be dead instead. I pretend that my soul has lifted out of my body and off of the ground that my body seems to be stuck to. My soul travels and travels and I open my eyes. I am still face down in the dirt on the pavement. I use my arms to lift myself to my feet and I begin the grueling walk home to apologize to my friend for taking off. Less than three minutes later who else but my best friend pulls around the corner in her crappy beat down Chevy. She runs to me and shoves me into the passengers side seat and I cry. Not my body… not my soul. Me. I cry and tell her everything. Words spill out of my mouth as if I can’t get them out fast enough and she comforts me and listens to me without a word. We arrive back at the house and she immediately drags me to the bathroom to clean me up.
    “I can do it. I’m fine.”
    “You are not fine. Take my help. I will help you.”
    She picked up the first aid kit and went to work. I watched silent tears fall down her nose and land on her hand. She wiped the tear on her jeans and just continued. She reaches for the razor at my bathtubs edge and I almost lurch forward to take it out from her hands and then I stop. She walks over to the trashcan and throws away my beautiful razor. She gives me some medication and lays me down on the sofa to sleep. I protest until I can feel my body being taken over by the medicine she had given me. She sat there combing back my hair with her fingers and smoothing it over with the palm of her hand. I close my eyes and drifted off into a medicated slumber.
  6. Lemex

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

    Oct 2, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Northeast England
    Drusy - Peeker

    “The rats were there the first night.” She pulled off her boot. “And now I have half a toe.”

    True to her word, there was a hole in the girl’s sock where the left toe should be but nothing poked out. I grimaced and looked away. What in the hell? What does somebody say to that? There was nothing I could say. I was too busy steadying myself against the rough bricks of the building at my back and trying not to throw up. Luckily for her, I hadn’t eaten in three days.

    She watched me gag as she slipped her boot back on and stood up.

    “I was right.”

    I looked up at her face, smudged by grease and other sundry filth.

    “You’re too soft, even for a girl. You’ll never survive out here.” Her words were harsh. Maybe it was that I was hungry. Or that I felt like every pore in my skin had been soaked in dirt but I was cranky. I didn’t like the way she spoke to me and I was pretty sure I didn’t like her either.

    I forced myself up from where I was crouched.

    “I’ve done pretty well for myself so far.” I hissed. “I’ve been out here for three days, and you know what?”

    She crossed her arms across her chest and waited.

    “I’ve still got all my toes.” I picked up my right foot and waived it around in the air a bit just to rub it in.

    “Point to me,” I thought as she flinched. But my celebration was momentary as her hurt look was quickly replaced by something beyond anger. Her eyes became cold as she turned her back to me and started to move away. Just before she turned the corner to the alley and walked into the light she looked back.

    “Enjoy your stay. I’m sure that you’ll be just fine on your own.” Her words oozed. “When night falls, try to remember one thing.” She batted her eyes. “I did try to warn you.” She flashed a quick smile that pretty much said “eat shit and die” and then she was gone – round the corner and back out onto the streets.

    I stood there for a moment just breathing in the urine soaked air.

    “You can come out now.” Silence greeted me. I shook my head. “Seriously, come out. This is your last chance.”
    The sound of wrappers crunching under foot and an empty bottle rolling out from behind the dumpster told me I was right. There was somebody else here. A small head poked out from behind the rusty container but I couldn’t see her face – her head was down; long brown hair shielded her from me like a cloak.

    “Come on out. I won’t hurt you.”

    The small girl shuffled out further into the alley and risked a quick look in my direction. She was young. Couldn’t be more than eight. But she was obviously from the street. Her jeans were torn and crusted in dirt. The shoes on her feet were too big and her shirt hung past her knees. She looked healthy enough though.

    “What’s your name?”

    She hesitated before answering, soft and unsure, “Peeker.”

    Of course it was. Because all street kids have stupid names like superhero rejects. Flash or Pincher or Peeker.

    “Well, Peeker, do you want to tell me what you were doing spying on me?”

    She shook her head. “Not spying. Peeking. You’re new. How did you know I was there?”

    “I notice things too,” I said without really thinking – my thoughts were somewhere else.

    I weighed my options. So far today I’d already made one enemy. Maybe I should try making a friend. I slung the backpack off my shoulder and crouched down. Opening the flap I kept my eyes trained on the girl. I could see that she was trying to figure out if there was a way around me but before she could bolt I pulled the item I was looking for from my bag and she froze.

    Little dolt. She probably thought I was going for a knife or something. Instead I held up the last half of a Hershey’s Bar.

    “Wanna split it?” I waived the dark brown bar in the air. She looked like a startled mouse. It was all I could do to keep from laughing as I saw her nose start twitching – as though she could smell the sugar. She inched closer as I broke what was left of the chocolate in half and held it out to her. Lightening fast her hand darted out and the chocolate in my own hand vanished. My eyebrows shot up which she apparently noticed. She wasn’t stupid either. She understood my surprise.

    “I’m fast.”

    She was. She could have probably made it past me if she’d really wanted to.

    I sat on the cold ground with my bag on my lap and bit into the candy. It was all I had left. I’d been saving it but after three days without food, well, I was probably going to end up eating it today anyways and I might as well have company for my last meal.

    Peeker sat too. More slowly though. She nibbled a little piece off her corner and let it melt on her tongue before smiling at me. It was small. But it was a victory.

    Apparently, chocolate was like the key to the vault with this girl because after a couple of bites she started talking.

    “That wasn’t very smart.”

    I cocked my head in question.

    “Pissing off Angel. That wasn’t very smart.”

    “She calls herself Angel?” I snorted once and that turned into a small laugh and before I knew it both Peeker and I were laughing out loud even though the pavement was turning our butts to ice. Even though I was alone, without any food. Even though she should be in bed – with nice parents and school and shoes that didn’t flop when she walked. We laughed. It felt good. Our laughing trailed off and Peeker started sucking her finger tips – trying to get the last bit of chocolate out from under her finger nails. She didn’t care that it tasted like sand and spit and whatever else she had dug in. It was the trace she wanted.

    “Why wasn’t it smart?” I asked.

    “Angel is an Ares girl. She aint very nice and neither is the rest of her temple. You don’t want to make enemies of them. Best to stay out of her way from now on.”

    I nodded. “Noted. What’s a temple?”

    My new…friend…seemed to be fighting with herself but then a look of resolution crossed her face and she answered.
    “There are four temples in the city. They’re each named after some old god. There’s Ares, where Angel is from and then there’s Zeus Temple and Athena Temple”, she sounded proud as she said this last one. “I don’t remember the other.”

    I hazarded a guess. “And you’re from Athena right?”

    She nodded, blushing a bit.

    “Smart kids always end up at Athena.”

    “Peeker, what’s this Temple like?”

    She thought about it. “It’s home. For kids like us that don’t got none. Not everyone has a temple though. You have to pay tribute to live there and if you do, they feed you some and you have a place to sleep that’s kind of warm. And every couple of months a nice lady from the state comes in and gives us shots and lollipops.”

    I didn’t like the sound of shots and I didn’t have any money but I also didn’t like the idea of having some rat gnaw my digits off as I slept. Despite what I’d said to Angel, I knew deep down that I’d only managed this long on luck.

    Before I’d even posed the question, Peeker stood up and brushed herself off.

    “I’ll take you there.” She said. “I like you.”

    Sweet! An “in”. And then the crushing disappointment.

    “But you have to pay tribute. You got any money?”

    I shook my head as I stood and re-shouldered my pack.

    Peeker frowned and shrugged before grabbing my hand and pulling me out towards the street.

    “It’s okay.” She said. “We’ll think of something.”

    The cold of the air bit hard as we exited the alley and my ears almost instantly went numb. “We better think of something” I thought as I was tugged across a busy street. “I won’t survive this weather.” The only warm spot on my body was where Peeker’s hand held mine and even that was growing chilled.

    We were crossing a large park and talking about what I could possibly offer, we’d come up with a few ideas, when a worrying thought wormed its way into my head.



    “They don’t hurt you at the temple do they?”

    She stopped and dropped my hand before facing me.

    “What do you mean?”

    Oh, man. How to say it? “They don’t touch you funny or nothing do they?”

    Her eyes lit up in understanding. “Oh! You mean sex and stuff.”

    I was so embarrassed but I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. I’d only been on my own for a month, only three days in the big city and already I felt older than I should.

    She turned and started walking again.

    “Nah, they don’t touch me. There’s some girls that pay the boys that way and then the boys pay their tribute for ‘em. But there are rules at the Temple. Can’t touch nobody that doesn’t want to be touched. Can’t steal from others under the roof. And you got to be there for prayer times.”

    “Prayer times?” This was starting to sound weird.

    “Yeah, but it’s just silly stuff. Thank you Great Athena for your protection…blah, blah, blah.”

    I tried not to laugh as she tried to sound deeply official. Somehow, coming from a mouse, it didn’t really work.
    The light from the sun was starting to fade and the chill in the air was becoming painful. We’d been walking for almost an hour – at a brisk pace too, but the sweat on my body felt like it started to freeze as soon as it escaped my skin.

    Suddenly Peeker stopped underneath the archway of an old, partially burned down church. Stone statues of saints and misshapen monsters with wings half perched, half crumbled on the masonry above us. She turned to me with a serious look on her face.

    “This is Athena’s Temple.” She was whispering. “I’m gonna go in and tell ‘em about you. Then you come in a few minutes from now. Remember, they can’t make you have any sex and they can’t steal from you. You got to be smart and get a good deal. Your first tribute will get you in the door. After that, we can think of how you’ll earn your keep.”

    I reached out and stopped her before she pushed open the door. I had been wondering the whole time.

    “Peeker, how do you pay your keep?”

    She just smiled a mischievous grin to match that of the imps above us.

    “I peek, duh.”

    Duh. She slipped into the church and I waited.

    A short time later I was standing in front of “Jade.” I couldn’t decide if that was her real name or one that the streets had bestowed but it didn’t really matter. As far as I was concerned, she was god. It was her that I had to convince.

    A group of other rag-tag kids, looking a lot like me but less hungry and much warmer, had gathered around us to watch the proceedings. Peeker was up on a scaffold looking down, her wide brown eyes just visible above the wooden slats. That was fine. She’d gotten me this far.

    “Peeker says you want to be an Initiate at Athena’s Temple.”

    It wasn’t a question. And I got the impression I wasn’t supposed to answer so I stood there silently, a feeling of ritual somehow filling the air. Jade’s voice echoed louder.

    “Applicant of Athena! What do you offer as tribute?”

    “I don’t have any money…” A few people snickered behind me and I heard a whisper from the shadows.

    “She could pay me if she wanted.” A low whistle followed.

    I knew better than to blow my cool. Peeker had told me they didn’t touch girls “that way” uninvited. I ignored the boys behind me and continued. Bending down I reached into my bag from where I dropped it on the floor and dug to the bottom. Jade simply stood there – imperious in the dust motes, waiting. It took a minute but I finally felt my fingers snag my prize at the bottom as I pulled out my tribute.

    I held the locket aloft so that everyone could see it and held it out towards Jade.

    “Solid gold,” I said.

    She reached out and balanced the metal heart in her hand before using her dirt crusted nails to pry it open. I knew what she would find. My mother’s face staring back at her from before the sickness had taken hold. When her hair was still honey colored and she smelled like lilacs. My heart clenched. It was my most precious possession. But then, Athena demanded a tribute.

    I looked over the head of Jade to see my small friend doing what she does – peeking. She smiled at me and nodded. That’s when I breathed. A small tear rolled from my eye and I couldn’t help think that maybe Angel had been right. I was too soft.

    Jade softly closed the locket. I think she knew. She stepped forward and placed her hand on my shoulder gently. Her words were soft and final – she wasn’t even going to barter.

    “Tribute accepted.”
  7. Lemex

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

    Oct 2, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Northeast England
    Khaelmin - Dichotomy

    ‘So, it’s awoken.’
    ‘Yes, it’s been treading on the edge between dream and life for a while now.’
    ‘And the injuries?’
    ‘Almost gone. Which is unbelievable, seeing as how, not two days ago, the burns from the crash were covering its whole body.’
    ‘Amazing creature. What do you think it is?’
    ‘The gods willing, it’s going to tell us itself soon.’


    Sweat beaded and ran in rivulets down my nose. The droplets were falling all over the Hawking reactor’s starter assembly. I wiped them off with a curse and I rearranged the overwhelmed absorbent band around my forehead. The air was so hot and humid that even the simplest tasks were a pain in the ass. And what I was doing now was anything but. This lens was the most critical component of the whole device and the positioning was crucial. Suppressing a shake of my hand, I slid the slice of diamond in. There, that’ll have to do. I closed the lid and started cranking up the laser’s piezoelectric battery. After about five minutes, the green, ‘ready’ status led flashed on.

    I held my breath and pressed the ignition button, prepared for disappointment. The laser’s thin blue beam should now be rushing through the lens, right to the heart of the main reaction chamber. The reactor status led changed from amber to red and I gave an excited whoop. We now had fusion. And just in time, too, because a rather sharp beep notified me that the laser’s battery had depleted. No matter now, the reaction inside the tokamak had become self-sustaining.

    The escape pod, which I had dubbed the Led Zepplin in a fit of frustration, began to shudder. Its attitude adjuster jets had started lifting it from the much where it had landed, nose first. After no longer than a minute, the vessel was sitting on its tail, ready for launch. The crash had damaged a great many things. Amongst which was part the reactor’s radiation shielding, which was making the inside of the engine compartment unbearably hot. Dazed, I stepped back out in the jungle and sat down on a fallen log.

    ‘So you’ve finally done it, Solarian,’ said a familiar hissing and clicking voice from behind me.

    I didn’t turn around. I knew it was the Asimi village elder, whose incomprehensible name I had stopped trying to pronounce long ago. So I just took to calling him Mister Crowley. I heard him hobble around the log, his cane squelching in the jungle mud at every step. His little community was something like the Amish of the Asimi Confederation. Even though their kind had access to very advanced technology, they chose to live on this backwater jungle planet, with nothing but what the land provided. I owed them my life. They were the ones that pulled me out of the burning insides of the escape pod and cared for me until my nanites managed to heal me. I took a long swig from the water skin he was offering before replying.

    ‘You knew this day would come,’ I said.

    ‘Aye, Immanuel, I did,’ he said, tapping the six fingers of his slender hand on the cane’s handle. ‘What falls from the stars always longs to return to them. But have you thought about the kind of life you are returning to?’

    ‘It’s the only life I know.’

    ‘The life of a killer,’ he sighed and scratched the base of his front horns. He did this a lot and it showed, because most of the dark blue scales around them had fallen off, revealing the turquoise skin below. ‘A destroyer of beings, day in and day out. You could find peace here, you know. We’d be happy to accept you in our community.’

    ‘Old man, spare me the ethics talk. I’m a killer. I know it. But I kill to protect my kind and that gives me all the peace I need. I appreciate your offer, I really do. But my place is where my duty takes me.’

    ‘Alright, you can’t blame me for trying. So you’re really leaving. You will, at least, say goodbye to everyone?’

    The last sentence was said in a somewhat disapproving tone.

    ‘Of course,’ I raised my hand in a placating manner. ‘I owe your people my life. It’s the least I could do.’


    We were maybe ten minutes away from the village when the sky above became alight with what I immediately recognized as the fires of an atmosphere re-entry. I grabbed the Elder’s shoulder in alarm and pointed towards it.

    ‘Ah, don’t worry yourself about it,’ he said unconcerned. ‘It must be one of our own. The only ships we get out here are the ones carrying the new pilgrims who wish to join our community.’

    I said nothing, but I was unconvinced. Most of my armor was lost during the crash, burned away. The only pieces of equipment I had left were my boots, my left glove, the translator band around my neck and my longsword, sans sheath, unfortunately. Without the helmet’s visor, I had to rely on the relatively weak magnification my enhanced eyes provided. The intense blaze of the thrusters was obscuring most of the ship’s features. Suddenly, I made out something that chilled my blood, despite the heat of the jungle.

    ‘The ship’s nose is shaped like a three pronged claw, Crowley,’ I whispered urgently. ‘That’s a Worgen corvette. They must have tracked my escape pod here.’

    His cat-like pupils flickered sharply, before he regained his calm. The ship appeared to be heading towards the village’s position at full speed.

    ‘Then, for your sake, Immanuel, you must leave right away. I’ll convey your goodbyes to the others.’

    ‘But what about you? Do you think they’ll just pack up and leave when they don’t find me? I’m afraid they’ll take out their frustrations on you.’

    The corvette was now very close and was decelerating with all its power, in preparation for landing.

    ‘They will not dare harm us,’ he said, but I could feel the doubt in his voice. ‘The Confederation and the Empire have a non-aggression pact. They will not risk breaching it, not with the war against your Hegemony going the way it does.’

    I was very tempted to take his advice and turn tail without another word. These aliens should have meant nothing to me, after all. From early cadetship, the Educator Knights did their best to instill in us the order of priorities. Above all else protect the human race, then protect your Solarian brothers and then protect yourself. Nothing else matters.

    I could hear trees breaking and collapsing as the enemy ship settled itself on the jungle floor. The din it was making was almost deafening, even from here.

    ‘Very well, then,’ I said. ’One last time I’d like to thank-’

    But I never got to finish. Shots were being fired in the vicinity of the village.

    ‘What was that?’ Crowley asked, startled. His tail was twitching nervously and his pupils were now so wide, the yellow irises were barely visible.

    ‘Heavy railguns,’ I sighed. ‘So much for your precious pact.’

    ‘C-c-can you stop them?’ he stuttered.

    ‘Alone, against a corvette’s complement of fifty angry Worgen? Dressed like this?’ I spread my arms wide to better emphasize my gear, or lack thereof. ‘Crowley, you must be dreaming.’

    I could almost feel his heart sinking. But it only lasted a second. He drew himself straight once more and held out a shaky, bony hand.

    ‘I understand, my friend. It it’s the will of the gods that we die today, then so be it. Farewell.’

    I stared at the hand, transfixed. My rational side was arguing with my conscience at breakneck speed. I wanted to grab his hand and be done with his kind. I wanted to scarper back to the Zepplin and never look back. On the other hand…

    ‘Ah, screw it!’ I shouted. ‘I’ll see what I can do.’


    The majority of the villagers hadn't shared Crowley’s unconcerned attitude. The moment they realized the ship was not one of theirs, most of them ran for the jungle. So the casualties had been low, so far. But it was only a matter of time until the armored and very determined Worgen grunts caught up with them. If I was going to survive this, let alone help these people, I had to use every guerilla tactic they taught me at the Cantemir Academy.

    I heard an Asimi screech not far away. I scrambled up the trunk of one of the trees and started making my way through the branches and lianas, Tarzan style. In no time, I reached the place from whence the scream originated. Two Worgen had cornered one of the village’s children against a tree trunk. The ugly, bulky, two meter tall figures must have been a truly terrifying spectacle to behold. One of them was heading towards him with his claws drawn. I got on a low hanging branch above the nearest grunt and used the hooks on my boot heels to hang upside down.

    From the wrist of my surviving glove I pulled a small ring. Although I couldn’t see it, I knew it was trailing an impossibly thin carbon nanotube saw thread. Silently, I looped the garrote around the Worgen’s neck. With the slightest of tugs, the wire cut through brown armor, fur, flesh and bone. The grunt collapsed, not even knowing what hit it. With a flip, I had my feet firmly on the ground again and ran for the second one. His paw rushed out towards the cowering child, but it never made it past the line of my garrote. Indigo blood gushed from the stump, and I could hear the Worgen’s howl, muffled by the helmet. With a quick move, I decapitated it as well, snuffing out its cries.

    ‘Immanuel!’ squeaked the child. ‘Am I glad to see you!’

    ‘No time, kid,’ I whispered urgently. ‘Get as far away from the village as possible. Now!’

    He scrambled away without another word. Alright, two down, a depressing amount to go. Time was of the essence. I had to draw the other enemies away from the fleeing villagers. I was sure that the next time I would see another Asimi, It’ll be too late for saving. I grabbed a railgun, all the ammo I could find and a helmet communicator from one of the dead Worgen.

    ‘Alright, you filthy aliens,’ I bellowed in the microphone. ‘I’m getting the impression that you may be looking for me. Come and get me, assholes!’

    As I said that, I fired a volley of tracer slugs into the air. The red trails hung in the air like a beacon.

    ‘I really hope I know what I’m doing,’ I muttered to myself and started making my way towards their ship.


    My strategies had worked better than I’d hoped. On the kilometer long trail towards the corvette I had left about twenty five dead Worgen bodies. Or pieces of them, anyway. I had used every item of equipment I could scavenge from the enemy. Grenades, strategically placed mines and hundreds upon hundreds of rounds of ammunition, nothing went to waste. Never firing twice from the same spot, never dallying in one place more than it was necessary to scavenge the bodies, I had managed to remain unscathed so far.

    But I knew this could not continue for long. They were attacking in increasingly larger groups. I knew that each and every one of them had, at some point, entertained the thought of gloriously attacking me one on one. However, they were savages, not stupid, so they quickly wised up. It had been blind luck that had made the difference between disaster and success in the last scrape.

    My only chance now was to reach the Worgen ship, eliminate the crew inside and use its weapons against the survivors. Easier said than done. Heavy footsteps and crackling vegetation, closer than I was comfortable with, caught my attention. After a few seconds of careful listening I cursed, realizing that this battle would also be the last, whatever the outcome. They had regrouped and were now tracking me like a pack of wolves. Ha, I’d have noticed the irony if only the situation hadn’t been so damn dire. From the same careful listening I deduced their probable direction, so I buried my last mine in the leaves on the jungle floor and hauled ass to the landing site.

    It was nestled tightly between the trees and no guards were visible. So far, so good. I circled around it a bit and I couldn’t believe my eyes. I didn’t really know who to thank first, Lady Luck or the Worgen’s stupidity. They had left the hatch open. Wait a minute, I thought, it can’t be that easy. My suspicions were confirmed, when the mine I left a hundred meters back exploded. Two Worgen bounded from the thicket nearest to the hatch and started running towards the explosion. I dropped back in a bush of my own, until they passed me, not two meters away. Looking back at the ship, I could see another one of them poking its head from inside the ship, carefully surveying the area.

    Well, things are definitely getting easier, I thought. Perfect stealth was needed for this next part. I carefully aimed the forefinger of my glove at the enemy and pressed a small button on the wrist. The diamond tipped poison dart shot out and embedded deep into its neck, penetrating the armored collar easily. A second later, the Worgen dropped to the ground with a heavy thud. Sword at the ready, I made my way to the ship as quickly as possible.

    The inside was dark and humid, smelling of unwashed fur and something aseptic. The combination was utterly disgusting. There was nobody in sight. All of the others must be in the jungle. And who could blame them? Anybody willingly coming to the lair of their enemy must be crazy. I took a corridor on the left, passing along the way what appeared to be a mess hall and a barracks. These smelled even more ungodly than the rest of the ship. Finally, the double doors of the cockpit were in sight.

    I pushed the button to open the doors. I nearly wet myself when a four clawed hand grabbed me by the neck and hauled me inside. The creature threw me down on my belly and stabbed its talons deep in my back. I howled in pain and tears filled my eyes. It felt like four hot pokers were trying to rip my spine out. With a backward, awkward kick, I managed to swipe one of its legs. It didn’t fall, but it did release me in the attempt to regain balance. I rolled on my back and struck with my sword. The purple corundum blade slashed off the Worgen’s arm just above the elbow.

    Indigo blood was flying everywhere and the creature was flailing around with its good hand, maddened with pain. The cockpit was extremely cramped and, try as I might, I couldn’t evade it every time. Finally, I managed to kick it back in the doorway. With a swift thrust, I embedded my sword under its chin to the hilt. The tip of the blade came out from the back of the head and went through the wall behind. The Worgen went limp and just hung there, impaled.

    Exhausted and in pain, I dropped in the pilot’s seat. My back was killing me and a series of gashes had appeared on my chest, arms and face. Luckily, the nanites managed to stop any bleeding quickly. Right, I’d had just about enough of these bloody aliens. Struggling to understand the labels written on the various controls, I managed to point the main guns to where I knew the Worgen would be coming from. Punching another button made the ship’s emergency siren wail in the most strident manner imaginable.

    The guns were loaded with incendiary rounds. I waited patiently until the first of the monsters appeared, drawn by the sound. Steady, I whispered. Two more appeared and from the rustling behind them, I knew the others were not far away. I slammed my hand on the fire buttons, and the jungle ahead blossomed with hellfire. The Worgen were instantly incinerated, their primitive armor no match for their own weapons. Only then did I allow myself to fall back in the seat and faint.


    I woke up with a start and scrambled back on my feet, ignoring the painful protestations of my insufficiently healed wounds. I wildly tried to draw a sword that wasn’t there. But instead of Worgen, I was surrounded by the village’s inhabitants. I was back at the Zepplin.

    ‘Welcome back, Immanuel,’ said Crowley, handing me my sword, hilt first. ‘Again, you’ve returned from the dead, against all odds.’

    ‘What happened?’ I sputtered. ‘Are there any more of them?’

    ‘No, no,’ he said, ‘rest easy, hero. You got them all.’

    ‘Oh, thank Christ,’ I breathed, relieved. ‘I don’t think I have any more fight left in me.’

    ‘I was wrong about you, you know.’

    ‘Oh?’ I asked, raising an eyebrow. ’How so?’

    ‘You are a killer and a destroyer. But you also have a great heart. I didn’t know the two could exist in the same person simultaneously, but you proved me wrong. On behalf of myself, I apologize. On behalf of all of us, thank you.’

    ‘Yeah, well, you’re welcome. I… I best be going now.’

    ‘Of course. Rest assured, the rulers of the Confederacy will hear about what you did today. You’re a tribute to your kind and they’re lucky to have you.’

    ‘Well, if you ever need a saviour to rise against your enemies, you know who to call,’ I said, right before the Zepplin’s door closed.
  8. Lemex

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

    Oct 2, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Northeast England
    jedellion - The Girl

    The old storyteller made his way slowly up the three steps which formed the base of the statue that stood at the centre of the marketplace. He leaned down and carefully placed his ale tankard on the top step. Then, groaning theatrically, he sat himself down resting his back against the smooth marble of the statue’s plinth. He placed his old walnut walking stick at his side and took off his battered leather cap, laying it on the step below him. No sooner had he done so than the first coins started to land inside it. He stretched and looked around at the gathering crowd.

    The children came first, pulling at their parents’ hands, pointing excitedly. Then came the rest: old folk and young, quiet loners who stayed to the rear and groups of people who chatted excitedly as they came close. There were couples in love, the men tossing in coins to impress their ladies, town guards surreptitiously sidling closer, even some of the traders put the shutters down on their stalls and walked over to listen. The storyteller smiled, nodding his thanks as the coins fell. He judged the moment carefully as the crowd began to still before clearing his throat.

    “Good day my friends, good day to you all! You have come to hear a tale, and a tale I shall tell.” He paused a moment allowing the last few conversations to settle down.

    “But what shall it be today, good people? Will it be an adventure with daring duels and villainous rogues? Perhaps a story of unrequited love and hopeless romance?” To his left, a pretty girl sighed longingly and several people chuckled good-naturedly. The Storyteller’s lips twitched upwards and his eyes sparkled. He had them.

    People started shouting out their requests.

    “The tale of the three beggars!”
    “The Queen and the heart of glass.”
    “Patsy and the pancakes!”

    “Make way for the king!”

    The crowd broke into excited murmurs as they looked around. The Storyteller craned his neck trying to look beyond the gathered people. He saw the glint of sunlight on armour and then the crowd was moving aside forming a corridor as His Majesty, King Markus III approached. The king was old now, and the storyteller noted how his shoulders bowed. He felt a twinge of sympathy in his own arthritic knees as he saw Markus’ careful gait and the way his gnarled hand held tightly to his walking stick. The crowd bowed respectfully as he passed them. The storyteller remained seated. He was far too old for all that nonsense and just grinned as the King approached.

    “Your Majesty! I am honoured.”

    The old king smiled. “It’s been too long.”

    The storyteller nodded. “And what can I do for you today, Sire? Have you a tale you would like to hear?”

    The king looked around the crowd of gathered people and then his face tilted upwards to regard the finely crafted bronze statue. The people followed his gaze curiously.

    King Markus nodded to the statue slightly and spoke softly. “Tell her story.”

    The storyteller inclined his head slightly. He lifted the tankard and took a slow drink. Sighing in appreciation he replaced the tankard and settled himself, placing his hands on his thighs and leaning forwards.

    “My friends,” He began, “many of you have walked past this statue every day. I daresay most of you have spared a glance at the pretty girl who stands above me. Perhaps you have noted her simple clothing. Maybe you have wondered about her, your eyes searching out a plaque or inscription.
    Many in the crowd smiled to themselves while others nodded. One young boy, was looking intently at the statue. He frowned.

    “There ain’t no words!”

    The storyteller nodded. “That’s right my young friend. She has no name plate, no inscription.”
    The child was about to ask another question but he was silenced by his mother. The boy scowled angrily but the storyteller raised a placating hand.

    “It’s all right lad, I know what you were going to ask. Who is she?”

    The boy nodded.

    “Well, that is the question, and what follows is the best answer I can give.”

    “Many, many years ago, a very long time before any of you were born, there was a wicked king. He was very cruel to his people and taxed them mercilessly. He punished the guilty far beyond their crimes and drafted most of the young men into his armies to fight his petty wars.

    It was a very sad time for the city. The people were poor and many fell to disease, some died of starvation, or were imprisoned for being unable to pay the taxes. But the king seemed not to care. He was only interested in how much gold he had, and who he was fighting with this year.

    One day, he received a visit from the elders of the city. They hoped the king might find some small measure of sympathy and ease the burdens on his people. But do you know what happened?”

    Several of the children had huddled closer as he spoke and were now shaking their heads.

    “Well, my friends.” The storyteller continued, leaning closer still. “The king became enraged. ‘How dare they’, he cried. He stamped around the castle accusing his people of being lazy and disloyal. He simply could not understand why his people would be so faithless. He was so furious he could barely sleep that night, determined to prove to everyone he was right.

    The next morning he dressed in his finest clothes. After a hearty breakfast, he summoned his guards and made his way down to this very market square. The people bowed and scraped as he past, never daring to look up. The King looked around, searching for proof of his convictions.

    Firstly, he approached a fruit seller. Much of the woman’s fruit was bruised and few items had their full growth. He smiled, thinking he might have found his proof.

    ‘Trader,’ he exclaimed, ‘why is your fruit in such poor condition? Are you so idle that you cannot tend to your orchards properly?’

    The fruit seller shook her head. ‘Sire,’ she said, ‘all of my best fruit is sent to the castle for your feasts, or the garrisons to feed your troops. Your factors personally select all the best fruit before every market day. This is all I have left to feed your people.’

    The king grunted in grudging acceptance but was clearly annoyed at the response. He nodded curtly and turned away. He walked across to an ironmonger’s stall where he frowned at the tin and bronze items on display.

    ‘Trader, where are your iron goods? Are you so inept that you cannot keep your fires hot enough? Or are you so weak you cannot hammer the steel?’

    The ironmonger shook his head. ‘No Sire, if truth be told, there is precious little iron to buy as Your Majesty’s armourers buy it all in order to clad your knights in fine mail shirts, or to make strong swords for your men at arms and nails for your warships. Your people have to make do with what I can buy after I have paid your taxes.’

    The King’s brow furrowed and his cheeks coloured in anger. This was not what he had expected to hear and he felt that his people were reproaching him. He turned away crossly and strode to a baker’s stall. Eyeing the poor goods on display he tore open a loaf. He sniffed, and took a cautious bite. Screwing up his face he spat out the bread.

    ‘Baker!’ He sputtered angrily, ‘this loaf is course and gritty. Explain why you are producing such poor fare; are you so lazy you cannot make flour?’

    ‘Sire,’ the baker began nervously, ‘your bakers and cooks buy up most of the good flour for your stores and your armies stomachs. I have to use only the poorest flour, and yes, I have to add mashed potatoes, chalk and even sawdust to make it go further. I make no apologies. Had I the flour I would make better, but at least
    your people have food enough to live on.’

    The King was now livid. He was being made to look like a fool. He stomped away and stood by the water trough that stood right where I am sitting now. He stared into the distance considering what punishments to exact on his disrespectful subjects. Just then, he happened to catch sight of a girl walking through the marketplace. She was dressed only in the simplest of peasant garb, but she held herself like a princess. His anger drained away and he looked at her in open admiration

    The King, feeling for once in his life clumsy and awkward, quickly walked back to the fruit seller.

    ‘Trader, who is that girl who wanders so carefree in my city?”

    ‘I know not her name, Sire,’ said the woman, ‘but she is a gentle and caring soul, gifted in healing. Last week she helped cure my youngest daughter of the flux. I
    think perhaps the ironmonger may know more. I see him speak to her often.’

    The king nodded and walked back to the ironmonger. He pointed out the girl, who was smiling and laughing with a cloth merchant, ‘Trader, who is that girl with the hair like finely spun gold?’

    The ironmonger smiled. ‘I know not her name, Sire. But she is wise beyond compare. Only last month she helped curb my drinking and my temper, thus saving my marriage. Now my wife and I are happy as can be. Perhaps you should ask the baker. I am sure he knows her quite well.’

    The king, growing frustrated once again at not getting the answers he wanted, turned impatiently and strode back to the baker.
    ‘Baker,’ he barked, pointing at the girl who was now chatting with some children, ‘who is that woman?”

    The baker followed his pointing finger and nodded smiling. ‘Sire, that is a most generous and selfless young lady. Why, a few weeks ago when I was sick with a fever, she baked my bread and tended my stall and would not take a single penny for herself.’

    ‘But what is her name, Baker?”

    The Baker frowned. ‘Why, now you come to mention it, Sire, I do not believe I ever learned her name. But everyone knows her. She helps all folk without any thought of taking.’

    The King’s scowl returned in full. Clearly, his entire city was populated by fools. Moreover, he was not sure he believed his subjects; no one could be so selfless and noble. He walked over to the girl who turned and smiled as he approached. For a moment, the King seemed unable to speak. He stood gaping for a moment before he could find his courage.

    ‘Fair lady, might you spare a moment for your King?’

    The girl nodded still smiling. ‘I can Your Majesty, though I am not a subject of your kingdom, I am staying here but a while.’

    The King seemed taken aback. ‘I see. I gather from my people that you are something of an angel in disguise with all your good deeds. Tell me lady, what profit do you make from all these good deeds. I cannot believe you do not benefit in some way. ’

    Tilting her head, the girl considered. ‘Profit?’ she replied. ‘No profit as you would have it, Sire, but the thanks I receive make me happy and pleased that I can help.’
    The King’s face darkened, but then he smiled, but unlike the girl’s gentle joy, his smile was full of craving and slyness.

    ‘Then good lady, perhaps you would do a service for me?’

    The girl nodded. ‘Indeed Your majesty, I shall do you a great service, though you will not recognise it as such till it is too late.’

    The King seemed not to hear as he continued unabated.

    ‘Then here is what I would have of you. Be my wife, and bear me strong sons and pretty daughters with hair like gold.’
    The girl sighed, and to many it seemed her eyes were filled with sorrow. ‘Alas Sire, I cannot do as you ask. I shall not marry you, for your heart is of cold stone with no place for love inside.”

    The King stood silent a moment, his fists clenched. Then he spoke softly. ‘But lady, my life is lonely; my castle is too large for me alone. I would share with you my wealth and power. I beg you to reconsider and ease my loneliness.’
    Perhaps the King was playing a cruel game by trying to call on her giving nature, or perhaps the King was speaking from his heart, but regardless the girl shook her head.

    ‘No King, I cannot and will not. If I have air to breath, bread to eat and water to drink, then I am wealthy. If I can bring a smile to someone in need, then I have the greatest power a person can hold. You can offer me nothing of true value.’

    Now the king showed his renewed anger, all his earlier rage magnified and redirected.

    ‘You shall marry me! You are in my city and subject to my rule!’

    He reached out his hand to grasp her arm and she stepped to one side. He tried to grab her again but no matter how hard he tried, she seemed to always be able to evade his clutching hands. His face grew red and his eyes blazed as he drew his sword.

    ‘Damn you woman, hold still! Guards, take her!”

    The King’s men moved to take the girl, but suddenly the market folk came from all sides forming a wall between the King and the girl, in the centre were the stern faces of the fruit seller, the ironmonger and the baker. The King howled in fury at this open rebellion and raised his sword above the ironmonger’s head.

    ‘Stand aside,’ the King snarled. But the ironmonger stood his ground. With a howl of fury, the sword slashed downwards.”

    The storyteller paused and took another drink while taking a glance around the crowd. Every eye was on his face and it seemed the entire throng held their breath. He waited a few seconds, letting the anticipation grow and then he spoke again.

    “No one can say for certain what happened next, but the next moment the ironmonger was pushed aside and in his place stood the girl. Then it was over, she had been cut almost in two so great was the blow.

    The King, it was said, went as white as a sheet. He dropped his bloody sword on the ground next to her dead body. With a cry of anguish that wrung every heart there, he fled back to the castle. The folk gathered in the marketplace stood in stunned silence. Eventually, they took up what was left of the girl and bore her away.
    For many days the King shut himself in his chambers and took little in the way of food or water. Days became weeks and summer turned to autumn.

    It was on the autumn equinox when he finally emerged from his chambers. Few recognised him for he was thin and wasted and seemed many years older. But there was a new understanding in his eyes. Over the next few days he ordered his armies home, signed peace treaties with his neighbours and reduced the taxes. He tore up the old law books and set about writing new, fair laws. The same laws this land holds to this day.

    A full year to day after those terrible events in the marketplace the King unveiled this very statue that I now lean my back against. From that day to this one, the kingdom has been a fair and just place to live. The King himself eventually found love and his wife bore sons who grew to be fair and wise, as were their children, on down through the generations to our very own dear King Markus.”

    The Storyteller leant back, smiling, and the crowd stood quietly, some looking at the old king but many more gazing up at the statue of the girl. Finally the little boy broke the silence.

    “But… who was she then?”

    The Storyteller shrugged. “I know not her name. Like all of us here, it is not our name, or how wealthy we are that matters. It is what we do with our lives that defines us, and that is the lesson the girl taught us.”

    At those words it was if a spell had been lifted. The crowd began to disperse talking amongst themselves, many of them throwing coins into the old man’s hat murmuring respectful thanks. The King nodded to him, smiling.

    “My thanks, old friend, I grew up with the story, but you have a way of bringing it to life like no other.”

    The Storyteller nodded his thanks, and the old King smiled once more and then turned slowly making his way back towards the castle.

    The last to leave was the little boy. He searched through his pockets with a concerned expression then, his face changing to one of delight, he pulled a small wrapped honey sweet from his pocket and handed it to the Storyteller. The old man chuckled as he accepted it.

    “My thanks, young sir.”

    The boy flushed and grinned, and then ran off to join his parents. The storyteller counted his coins and poured them into his pouch. He placed the cap on his head and drained his tankard. He turned his head slightly towards the slim figure who now sat beside him, their face hidden beneath the hood of a cloak.

    “Near cut in half? “

    The voice was young and feminine and laced with gentle humour. “As I recall it was a single thrust to the heart.”

    The storyteller smirked. “Artistic Licence. Besides, it’s more dramatic this way. You told me they have to remember. I make sure that they do.” He shook his purse appreciatively. “ I’ll say this, they pay better these days, that’s for sure.”

    He picked up his stick and rose up slowly, grunting with the effort.

    “So,” he said softly, “same time next year?”

    The figure tucked an errant strand of fine, gold hair into her hood and nodded.

    “As always, old friend.”
  9. Lemex

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

    Oct 2, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Northeast England
    Hambone - The Bridge

    I gazed at the main cable that drooped from the ground to the top of the first pier on the bridge. I don’t know why they called it a cable; it was more like a tube that held up all the other cables. I tightened the chest strap on my safety harness and began climbing. With every step, the main cable became steeper. After about twenty feet I clasped the hook of my lanyard to one of the tie-off cables beside me.

    I was climbing the bridge for one reason, Anthony Mitchell. We met in apprenticeship school and became great friends. When we topped out as journeymen carpenters, we hit the road. We traveled across the country, working in refineries, nukes, and huge scaffold jobs. We stood on the nuclear reactor at Songs, climbed to the top of the cooling tower at Davis Besse, and touched the tip of the Washington Monument.

    The climb was steeper by the minute, and my lanyard hook rattled behind me as I went. The sun was nearing the horizon, preparing a dip into Lake Michigan. The water below me was sprinkled with white caps. The old adage is "Don’t look down", but for Anthony and me, that was always the best part.

    We were travel partners, best of friends. We spent the days working together, building scaffolds at heights that would make most people dizzy. In the evenings we laughed over burgers and beers. On Sundays we always enjoyed a football game or a stock car race at a local pub.

    I noticed the police lights as I reached the halfway point. Anthony always referred to police lights as cherries and berries. I ignored them and kept climbing. By this time I used the cables on each side of me for handholds. My feet ached from the small diameter of the main cable. The breeze became much stronger as I climbed, cooling the summer evening. The sun reflected off the water, and the boats in the distance looked like dandruff on a dog's back.

    For fifteen years we traveled together, both of us having too much fun to settle down. Then, at a nuke in Minnesota, Anthony became sick. After he missed three days of work, I talked him into seeing a doctor. They ran tests. He had cancer. We went home. Three months later he was dead. I was with him when he went, me on one side, his mother on the other. I asked him what he wanted before he died. I told him I would do anything.

    “Remember we used to talk about climbing the Mackinac Bridge?” he asked in a hoarse voice. “Go to the top and put up an American Flag, just like we said. Do it for me, after I’m gone.”

    The climb was as steep as I thought it would be as I neared the top. My arms tired as I pulled myself along the tie off cables beside me. I hoisted myself onto the concrete pier when I reached the top. I removed the rolled up American Flag I had stuffed in the back of my harness like a quiver of arrows. I fished a few zip ties from my pocket and attached the thin wooden pole of the flag to a few cables. The wind tugged at the flag and nearly pulled it from my hands before I had it secured. I sat on the concrete pier and faced west. The sun began to drop into Lake Michigan, and the view became blurry as I cried.

    The sun was gone when I stood up and slid off the pier onto the main cable. I began my decent toward the police lights below. As I stepped off the main cable onto the sidewalk, I went from hearing the clasp of my harness to the click of handcuffs behind my back. As the police car drove me down the bridge, I looked up at the pier. The flag was barely visible in the dusk, flapping in the wind five hundred and fifty feet over the water.
  10. Lemex

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

    Oct 2, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Northeast England
    SilverWolf0101 - A Tribute to the Dead

    April 17th, 2012. A simple cold gray stone with the name recently etched in. The polish well formed letters erased the crudely scratched lines that had once been there. I heard the boy who had carved her name into the unmarked stone was facing jail time. Poor boy, he had only wanted to give the girl her identity back.

    Melissa Hearting.

    She died on April 17th, 2011. A year ago today. It was sad really, she had been the victim of a mugging, so they had no clue who she was when they buried her. The cemetery had done their deed of giving her a simple slab at the head with the day of her death. In it’s place now was a proper headstone that the family had regrettably paid for. Poor family, I heard the mother took it hard, and the father blamed himself. They had left the cemetery crying. I guess you really couldn’t blame them, I’ve seen a lot of people leaving like that. It’s hard to loose someone you care about.

    Looking down at the grave I felt a wave of sadness. It was a shame that someone so young had to be laid to rest so soon. She should have been able to live her life to the fullest. Where she could have spent forever being known. Now however, she lay to be forgotten in time. Just like the others. Taking a rose from my collection, I lay it at the base of the headstone. A single white rose for a soul lost. I would like to think she’s not forgotten, but even I have to admit that her family is coming less, and the people here cannot tell you much about her. I will remember her though, and I will come and visit her every year on this day. Each year I will leave her on of my white roses, pray for her happiness in heaven, and remember who she was. I will do this for her like I have the thousands of others that sleep in this cemetery. I leave them all white roses on the anniversary of their death to let them know that they are not forgotten.

    Bidding Melissa farewell I picked up the woven basket filled with roses and moved on. I have many to visit today, and the day is half done. My work though, is never finished. In the morning I will begin again, delivering roses to those who passed that day so that they will not be forgotten. I don’t know who will carry on my tradition once I finally pass, but until then I will carry on.

    You see, the reason I do this isn’t out of pity or sadness. It’s not because I have lost someone dear to me, and it’s not because I feel responsible for something long since pass. You see, I do this as a tribute to the dead so that they may not be forgotten, and so that they may find peace in the afterlife. I know what it’s like to be forgotten, and to live without peace. Why you ask? It’s because, like these poor souls, I too am dead, but unlike them I truly am forgotten. My grave is in the deepest part of the graveyard next to a boulder covered in mold like the aging oak beside it. No one knows I am there, I was buried before records were kept, so I am unknown and forgotten. I can only hope, that one day someone will remember me and visit me. If they wish to pay tribute to my death, they can bring me a rose if they wish, and I will be happy. Until then, I will continue paying tribute to the dead.
  11. Lemex

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

    Oct 2, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Northeast England
    o0oHANDo0o - Blood, dust and dreams

    David sat in the cockpit of his Bell Kiowa scout helicopter and stared out at the sun rising slowly out of the dessert floor.
    What are you doing? He asked himself. Last night, at a little past nine o’clock in the evening, his commanding officer called him into his office and informed him that his son had unfortunately past away from complications during his cancer treatment. His CO offered to change the roster and assign this morning’s scout flight to another pilot. David had declined the offer.
    “I’m doing my Job. I’m defending my country, my way of life and my family.” He answered himself aloud and with conviction. Thanks to modern technology like the rotor mounted observation platform, there was no longer a need for more than one person, the pilot, to complete scouting missions.
    You’re defending your family? But they’re dead. Your little sheriff is gone. He’ll never be more than memories that in your head. You think your wife is still going to want you? You were not around when she needed your support during Danny’s treatment. Hell, he was healthy and happy when you left him. Maybe you made him sick by leaving. Maybe you would have seen the signs sooner.

    The truth was that he needed this morning’s flight. He needed to be away from the base and the tortured faces of his friends and colleges. He could see them in his peripheral vision, staring at him with compassion and uncertainty of action, but they looked away when he caught their gaze and deflected his conversations with humour and awkward pauses. He needed this morning’s flight. He needed to be alone, out over the baron sea of dunes and dust. Out there beyond the melancholy they thought they should feel for him. Away from the hands on the shoulder and the lies that everything was going to be okay.

    David received radio clearance for take-off and fifteen minutes later he was threading his way down a narrow river canyon, following a dry river bed out to the plains where the oil fields lay. He realised that he was flying with an unusual emotional numbness, after two passes brought him dangerously close the solid rock cliffs and he dismissed them from his mind without fear. Once he reached his waypoint, he pulled out of the canyon and passed close enough to the side wall that the blast from the propellers sent a wave of gravel cascading down into the arroyo.

    There should have been a vast open plain stretching hundreds of flat baron kilometres to a horizon hidden in a heat haze. There should have been… But there wasn’t. He looked straight into a massive churning sandstorm. It filled his vision and he was consumed by the monster before he had time to react. The wind driven sand devoured the sun and David quickly lost his bearings in the mullioned darkness. The dashboard lit up like a Christmas tree and warnings chimed as the sand choked the life giving oxygen out of the choppers engine. But David was strangely calm. His thoughts were with his boy even as the dashboard reared up and smashed him in the face.

    David found himself standing in his own back yard. The scenery was simultaneously familiar yet foreign.
    Am I dead? He couldn’t help but wonder, or remember much of how he got there.
    He saw Jill, tied to a poll the way they used to when they played cowboys and Indians with Danny. She was smiling broadly and beaming at him. She was so beautiful. So happy. Suddenly Danny was standing beside him, dressed in his cowboy costume, boots, hat and all. The golden sheriff’s star gleamed in the warm Brisbane sunlight. One afternoon, David had worked in his garden shed for hours making the star, a symbol of the law dealing cowboy sheriff. He painstakingly cut the shape out of some aluminium cans and sprayed it with golden spray paint. He’d surprised Danny with the gift while he was playing in the garden with Jill. Danny had been unable to contain his excitement and it took some time to get him to stand still long enough to pin it to his waste coat. He deputised Danny by the powers given to him, and charged him with the protection of his mum during his father’s absence.

    “Daddy, why are you so far away?” Danny’s voice echoed mechanically within David’s heart and this world creation of his mind. “Are you fighting the Indians too?”
    A lump in his throat prevented David from answering.
    “Indians! Look out!” Danny shrieked and bolted towards his mother.
    David turned and his eyes fell first on Jill, her face now pale and her eyes swollen and red from obvious hours of crying and grief. She looked like she had cried until there were no more tears to cry. Her floral summer dress transformed into a black funeral gown. Then he saw the Indian. He was tall and broad in the shoulders, and his muscles bulged as he hurled a tomahawk axe at David’s heart. The normal passing of time broke down into a disjointed stop start of super slow motion as David stood transfixed by the approaching axe. It hung menacingly in the air, rotating on its axis as it inched its way towards him. His eyes slowly drifted to the eyes of his attacker and they were black hollow pits. Not the darkness that comes in the absence of light. This was like the empty frigid depths of the universe. His eyes fell back onto the axe now dangerously close to his chest. He was unable to move. Or maybe just unwilling… Maybe he just wanted the axe to find its deadly mark and kill the heart that was causing him so much pain. He no longer wanted to play cowboys and Indians. The sheriff was dead. The bad guys had won. What was the point?

    The axe entered his chest slowly, burying the dark metal head as far as the wooden handle. There was an ice cold sensation that slowly slithered through his veins as the impact forced him over backwards. Then, as he was slowly falling to the ground he saw Danny coming from the corner of his eye. As he ran he drew his little plastic pistol and waves of golden light were blasting from the barrel tip as the Red Indian reaper dissolved into a cloud of black dust. He moved unhindered by the slowing of time and was at David’s side even as he was still coming to rest on his back. He wrapped his little hands around the axe and wrenched it lose. A searing blast of white hot pain filled the gap where the axe had been. He cried out a silent scream that twisted his entire body. Then he felt a warm had close around his. Time instantly resumed its normal flow. It was Danny and he was placing something hard and metal in David’s right hand and forcing it closed with his small warm soft little hands. He stood over David, silhouetted by the sun so that he seemed to possess a bright aura almost too bright to look at. When he spoke his voice was warm and calm.
    “Daddy... I’m sorry.” He said as David instantly choked on the tears that burst from his eyes. “I’ve held on for as long as I could. But I have to go now. I can’t play anymore. It’s time to go home. I know it hurts, but you need to get up now, daddy. Mommy needs you to rescue her from the Indians. Stand up daddy, its time.”

    David’s grief poured out of him and he cried long sobbing tears that seemed to come from the very centre of his soul. The backyard dissolved around him into bright light and heat. Pain erupted across his body and he tasted the coppery taste of blood and sand. Through swollen eyes he saw a rescue helicopter resolving out of the dessert haze and tears. Then, as if a light switch had been flicked, he winked into a dark dreamless world where he rested his mind.
    The paramedics descended upon him and his neck was cradled into a cervical collar even as a trauma board was being slid beneath him.
    “Blood pressure is one hundred over fifty, pulse is seventy and weak. I think there is internal bleeding. Let’s get the drip in and get him out of here.”
    “What’s that in his hand?”
    “Looks like a gold star… He won’t let it go.”
    “Leave it alone. It’s probably shrapnel from the crash. We’ll get it out of his hand later. Let’s just get him to the medical centre.”
    “You’re going to make it, Son. I know it hurts. Just hold on.”
  12. Lemex

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

    Oct 2, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Northeast England
    JJ_Maxx - The Offering

    I don’t remember the moment my heart stopped beating. Maybe I’m not supposed to. I do remember Rose was by my side those last few weeks in the hospital. John and Danny would stop by to see me and Shawna was there every single day. At any rate, I can only assume at some point the machines just stopped and I was gone.

    That was yesterday.

    They say when you die that you’re drawn to a bright light. I was drawn to the bright sun shining above me. It burned my eyes. I looked around and found myself sitting on a bench. This bench happened to be located at Coney Island in New York. I waited there for a while, expecting something else to happen. I watched the people walking by, dressed in colorful shirts and bell-bottom pants. Not only was I not in the hospital, I was not in 2013, either. I snagged the arm of one of the boardwalk patrons, a young man with long hair and a purple headband.

    “Excuse me,” I said, “do you know what day it is?”

    “It’s Saturday, man,” he said, turning to walk away. I persisted.

    “Yes, but what day of the month?”

    “It’s August eighth,” he said, “and it’s 1962 in case that was your next question. What are you, some kind of time traveler? Freak.” He laughed and ran to catch up with his friends.

    I stumbled backward and sat down on the bench, burying my face in my hands. My hands. I studied them. These were not my hands. They were young hands and they were connected to young arms. Running over to a ticket window I looked at my reflection in the glass. It was definitely me, but I was younger. I pushed the skin around on my face, waiting for it to fall off like a mask. I smiled and even laughed a little bit. Then I heard somebody call my name.

    “Jim!” A young woman ran up to me, her arms filled with shopping bags. “There you are! We’ve been looking all over for you. Here take these.” She handed me a large orange beach umbrella and a few bags.

    “Rose?” I said, stunned. She was just as beautiful as when we first met. The sun shone off her shoulder-length blonde hair and her smile warmed my heart.

    “Honey,” she said, placing her hand on my forehead, “are you feeling alright?”

    “Yes, I feel great. Better than ever, actually.”

    “Well good. Did you pick out a spot on the beach yet?”

    “Um, no…” I said, looking around. “Not yet, where do you want to be?”

    “Oh it doesn’t matter, but you know Shawna will want to be as close to the water as possible,” she said, giving me a kiss. “Kids!” she yelled. “Time to go down to the beach!” Coming out of the nearby arcade was John and Danny, followed by Shawna. Shawna. My beautiful daughter. I scooped her up into my arms and squeezed her tight. Something was off. Shawna looked to be about ten, and John and Danny couldn’t have been more than eight. Shawna was our youngest, and wasn’t born until 1972, so she shouldn’t even have been there.

    “Dad,” Shawna said, “will you buy us some cotton candy?” I had forgotten how beautiful she was. She was so much like her mother, with her curly blonde hair blowing in the ocean breeze. “Dad?” she repeated.

    “What? Oh yes, of course we’ll get some cotton candy, sweetheart.”

    Shawna chirped with excitement and the four of them trotted off toward the beach.

    It was wonderful, it was amazing, it was every good memory I had wrapped up in one neat little package. I was with my family at Coney Island in the summer. And then, as if that wasn’t enough, waiting for us in the parking lot was my 1969 custom Mustang convertible. I loved that car. On the way home, we all sang Elvis songs on the radio and laughed until we cried.

    At first I wasn’t sure where I was driving to, but it came back to me. Forty-two Chestnut St. It was getting dark by the time we pulled into the driveway, but the house was just as I remembered it, all the way down to the Frisbee that Danny had thrown on the roof. It had taken me six months to finally get it down.

    We put the kids to bed and Rose collapsed on the couch. I poured us both a glass of wine. I sat down next to her.

    “Hey there beautiful,” I said, tucking her hair behind her ear.

    “Hey yourself,” she said, smiling. “Don’t forget to get the bags out of the car.”

    “I’ll go get them.” I walked towards the front door and stopped. I turned back toward her. “Rose?” I said. She looked up from her magazine.


    “I love you.”

    She smiled and said, “I love you too, Jim.”

    I walked outside whistling ‘Blue Suede Shoes’. I didn’t notice the man leaning against the car.

    “Good evening, James,” he said.

    I jumped in surprise. “Wow, you scared me there, buddy.” I said, catching my breath. “Can I help you?” He was wearing a Beach Boys t-shirt and a pair of blue jeans.

    “Very nice,” he said, walking around the car. “’69 Ford Mustang, right?”

    “Erm, yeah.”

    “V8 engine, four speed transmission?”

    “Yes, but she’s um, not for sale.” I sputtered.

    “You know, I always did love these cars.” He stood back and admired the car. “Remarkable.” I didn’t feel in control of this conversation at all.

    “Yes, it’s very nice. How did you know my name?”

    He stopped looking at the car and smiled at me. “You are James Tyler Donnigan, born February third, 1938 to Charles and Susan Donnigan.” He bent down and studied the front of the car. “Did you know they added three-point-eight inches to the front of this car in 1969?”

    “Who are you?”

    The man stood up and extended his hand. “I’m here to help you through the next steps. You can call me Pete.” I stepped back from him, feeling very uneasy at how much this man seemed to be in control.

    “Pete? Next steps? What are you talking about?” I said. I was getting annoyed. “I’m sorry, but I have to go. Good night.” I turned around and walked toward the house. He was now in front of me.

    “James,” he said. His voice was soft, and reassuring. “I understand this may be difficult for you, but its best if we start things off with some mutual trust. Just think of me like your own personal tour guide angel.”

    “Angel? Like wings and harps and clouds and stuff?”

    He smiled. “Not quite. We appear how people want to see us. Sometimes we are bathed in light and sometimes…” he gestured down his body, “it’s like this. I prefer this. I was never very good with the harp.” He walked over to the bay window on the front of the house; I could see Rose sitting on the couch.

    “Why are you here?” I asked.

    “I told you already. I am here to help you with the next steps.” Thoughts jumbled in my head as I tried to make sense of it all.

    “Am I… is this… is this heaven?” I finally blurted out. I felt silly for even saying something like that aloud.

    “This,” he said, motioning to the house and the driveway, “could be called heaven, sure.”

    I looked around. The sky was clear and the streetlights did little to dim the stars that filled the sky. “Wow. I thought it would be—”

    “Different?” he interrupted. “Most people do. You see James, when people die, their soul goes to a type of heaven built from their own experiences in life. For you, heaven is 1962, heaven is Coney Island in the summer, and heaven is your custom Mustang…” He looked back inside the house. “…and heaven is Rose and your children.”

    “I don’t understand. If this is 1962, then Shawna wouldn’t have been born yet and this car won’t be made for another seven years.”

    “It doesn’t quite work that way. The rules are different here. This isn’t time travel, James; it’s an amalgamation of your most cherished memories and loved ones. You will never grow old and never go to work or the dentist. You will spend an eternity right here, with your family.”

    “Wait, so this is how it is? Everyone gets their life cherry-picked of all the best stuff?”

    Pete’s face turned sullen. “No. Not everyone. There are still bad people in the world, James, and everyone knows who they are. It has nothing to do with going to church on Sundays or stealing a pack of gum.”

    I thought of all the things I had done wrong throughout my life. It was a short list, but a list nonetheless. Pete noticed my silence.

    “I know about all of it, James,” he whispered. He stepped closer to me. “You have lived a fulfilling life, a good life, but it was not without blemish, and that is where your next steps come from, and why I am here.”

    I felt uneasy. This man knew everything I had ever done wrong in my life and I couldn’t help but feel ashamed.

    “Don’t worry,” he continued, “you will get through this.”

    “Get through what, exactly?” I felt like a puppet on a string.

    “There is a balance to everything. For every good deed, there is an equal blessing, and for every bad deed, there must be an equal sacrifice. Each blessing or sacrifice according to the severity of the deed. As you can see, you have many blessings here, but there are still sacrifices that must be made.”

    “Sacrifices? Like, atonement for my sins?” I still remembered some things growing up in a Catholic family.

    “Don’t think of it like a punishment,” Pete said, sitting down on a lawn chair in the driveway. “Think of it more as an offering, or a tribute, for everything you have here.”

    “So, I need to give you an offering, in order to stay here?”


    “Okay, so what kind of tribute, like money?”

    Pete laughed. “The offering must be valuable to you. Sure, money may be valuable to someone who hoards riches, but I don’t think you place much value in money, do you? No, your value lies elsewhere.” He looked at the Mustang.

    “My car? You mean like I can give you my car as an offering, or tribute or whatever?” I pulled the keys out of my pocket. “Here, take it, it’s yours.” I watched as Pete stood up and walked toward the end of the driveway. He turned back to me, a serious look on his face.

    “James, if you feel that this car is enough of a sacrifice to balance your bad deeds, then I will take it, but that’s something you need to think about very carefully.”

    “Well, what if it’s not enough?”

    “Unfortunately, you only get one shot at this. If things aren’t in balance, then this place will unravel. Everything will be gone, the car, the house, the beach…”

    “Rose?” I felt a pit form in my stomach.

    “Yes, James, Rose will cease to exist, and so will you.” A taxi turned the corner, stopping at the end of the driveway. Pete opened the door.

    “Wait, where are you going?” I said.

    “I’ll be back tomorrow to accept your offering. I know you’ll do the right thing, James, you just need to have faith.” He closed the door and the taxi pulled away, leaving me in the silence of the night and the emptiness of the driveway.

    I retrieved the bags from the car and slowly walked back into the house.

    “What took you so long?” Rose said.

    “Oh, I was just talking with a…” I didn’t really believe it myself. “I was talking with a neighbor.”

    “Oh? Was it Carol? She’s always leaving her laundry on the line until after dark.”

    “No, a new neighbor, moved in down the block. He liked my car.”

    “That was nice. We’ll have to formally introduce ourselves sometime.”

    “Yeah, sure.” I sat down on the sofa and pulled Rose close to me. I loved the scent of her hair. It was intoxicating. I just wanted to hold her and feel the warmth of our love forever. I wanted to forget about Pete and the offering, but my mind was making a mental inventory of every horrible thing I’d ever done in my life.

    I thought of the time I pushed my brother, Roger, off the monkey bars because I was angry. And the time I sliced Rich Schumacher’s tires because he stole my girlfriend in high-school. The list began to form. It was all there. The pot and alcohol usage in college, lying on my employment applications, cooking the books for my first company. One by one the mountain of mistakes piled high on my thoughts. I could tell Rose was falling asleep in my arms.

    “Rose, do you think I’m a bad person?” I whispered. She snuggled further into my chest.

    “Of course not. You’re a good husband, a good father and a good man.” Her voice trailed off. “Good man…” I kissed the top of her head and lifted her in my arms, carrying her to our bedroom. Laying her on the bed, I walked to Shawna’s room. She was so peaceful, so precious. I tucked the blanket beneath her and kissed her forehead.

    I whispered in her ear. “You will always be my angel.” She rolled over and squeezed her stuffed animal. I wiped the tears from my eyes and returned to my bedroom, unable to sleep. That was the longest night I have ever had. Through tears and anger, I accepted my imperfect life, and the price it would cost.

    In the morning, before anyone was awake, I made breakfast. Not surprisingly, we had every ingredient I looked for. Pancakes, sausages, eggs and raisin toast. I made a pot of coffee as Rose walked into the kitchen, followed by Danny and John and finally a groggy-looking Shawna stumbled into the kitchen and sat down. Rose kissed me on the cheek and poured herself a cup of coffee as we all sat down to eat.

    We talked about baseball, and princesses, future vacations and past ones, too. At one point, Danny threw a slice of banana at John and John returned with a piece of syrupy pancake that stuck to Danny’s glasses. We all laughed. I heard a car outside, and I knew it was time. I stood up.

    “Rose, Danny, John, Shawna,” I started. “I want you to know how much I love all of you and if I could, I would trade an eternity to be with you all forever.” I held back the tears. “Please, come with me, I have someone I want you all to meet.” We all dressed and walked out to the driveway where Pete was waiting. He was wearing a white button down shirt, but was still wearing the same blue jeans. He was leaning on the taxi.

    I held Rose’s hand as we walked down the driveway.

    “Everyone,” I said, “this is Pete, and he is a very special friend of mine.” I introduced everyone to him. Rose was cordial and asked if he was from the neighborhood and told him he should come over for dinner some time. Danny and John just shook his hand and retreated behind Rose.

    “Rose, can you take the boys inside? We’ll be along in a minute or two.”

    “Of course,” she said, grabbing Danny and John’s hands. “It was nice meeting you.” Pete nodded and the three of them disappeared into the house.

    I held Shawna’s hand and walked closer to Pete.

    “Pete,” I said, fighting back the tears, “this is my youngest daughter, Shawna.”

    He crouched down so he was face to face with her.

    “Hello, Shawna, it’s very nice to finally meet you. Your daddy has told me all about you.”

    “He has?” she said.

    “Oh yes,” he said smiling. “He tells me you have been a very good girl and that you always listen to your parents.” Shawna grinned.

    “You know what?” he said. “I’ll bet that one day, you are going to grow up and be an amazing woman who will do great things.”

    “You really think so?”

    “I know so,” he said, standing up. I walked over and crouched down next to Shawna and placed her hand in mine.

    “Darling,” I said as my stomach turned into knots, “you know how much daddy loves you, right?”

    “I love you too, daddy.”

    “You’re my big girl, right?”

    “Daddy, what’s going on?”

    “Honey, I need you to go with Pete.” A tear rolled down my cheek. “I need you to trust me, Shawna, Okay? Can you trust me?”

    Shawna nodded and began to cry.

    “No, no sweetheart,” I said, “don’t cry, everything’s going to be alright, I promise.”

    “Promise?” she said, wiping her nose on her shirt.

    “Promise.” I said, tucking her behind her ear.

    “I love you daddy,” She threw her arms around me and I held her tight.

    “I love you too, so much.”

    “James,” Pete said. “It’s time.” I nodded. He opened the door of the taxi.

    “Time to go, baby,” I said, helping her into the backseat. My face was wet with tears. “Be good for Pete, okay?”

    “Yes, daddy,” she said as Pete closed the door.

    “I know it’s hard,” he said, “but there are many blessings yet to be found. Goodbye, James.”

    He got into the taxi and closed the door. I waved to Shawna through the window and then they were gone. I turned around to head back to the house but I fell to my knees in the driveway, sobbing uncontrollably. I knew it had to be her. It had to be Shawna. My shirt was soaked with tears.

    Through my sobbing I heard a car approach. I turned around to see the taxi. My heart leapt. I couldn’t see Shawna inside. The taxi pulled away and there was Pete standing in the street, smiling, next to a woman.

    “Daddy!” Shawna said, running into my arms. “I missed you so much!” She was an adult, just as I had remembered from the hospital two days earlier. Rose came out of the house, followed by Danny and John, they were full grown men.

    “Oh, Jim!” Rose cried. “I’ve been waiting for you for so long!”

    “We missed you, Dad!” The boys said, as they hugged me. We were all crying and I turned to Pete.

    “I don’t understand,” I said. “What about the offering? The sacrifice?”

    He smiled. “You’re a good man, James. You made the ultimate sacrifice, which was far greater than any bad thing you have ever done and now everything is in balance.” He began to walk down the street. He looked back at me. “Take care of yourself, James.”

    We all sat on the driveway, and laughed and cried tears of joy. We would be together, forever.
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